14 April 2007
A Taxing Situation
During his life, Leonardo produced thousands of pages of notes, sketches, and designs. These pages are called codices, manuscript pages that are bound together in book form.
Leonardo Da Vinci was born on April 15. Now over 550 years later, Mo presents a taxing situation and wants me to tax my brain using a computer. Now how in the world can you bring together Da Vinci, Computers, and taxes? Why you do it with a little known gambit on the Washington Use Tax now referred to as the "Da Vinci Exception".
In 1994, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates (he of sending pixels through windows) bought a Leonardo da Vinci manuscript for $30.8 million. One page of the Codex Leicester is shown above. The following year, Richard Ford, Gates' attorney at his father's firm of Preston Gates & Ellis, sought to create an exception in state tax law for local collectors whose out-of-state art purchases serve the public good.
Ford drafted a bill that would appeal to the interests of citizens across the state, not many of whom have had the chance to see a da Vinci manuscript firsthand. The idea was to offer a tax exemption for collectors whose artwork was available for public viewing, say at an art museum.
If Bill Gates had to pay nearly $3 million in taxes to bring the da Vinci manuscript into this state, why would he? He has eight or nine homes. He can leave it in a state without paying a use tax. Applying the use tax to art collectors would result in someone either not bringing (the art) into the state or not purchasing it at all.
Well this little bill before the legislator opened up a can of worms that no one wanted uncovered. It seems that some collectors weren't paying the use tax on art purchases anyway, and they didn't want the subject mentioned. So Gate's attorney dropped the matter with a legislator since there was no desire to irritate other collectors. Why create a problem where there is none? The use tax is theoretical until you get caught. If you buy a small piece of art and bring it home on an airplane who would know?
Gates allowed the Seattle Art Museum to display the da Vinci manuscript, known as the Codex Leicester. He also paid full use tax on the purchase, according to a spokesman for the Gates family thus ending the matter except that the State of Washington now pays a little closer attention to exhibits on the just in case there is a little bit of tax to be had.